Comparison Corner: IKEA Cabinets vs In-Stock Kitchen Cabinets

When it’s time for a kitchen remodel, are Ikea Cabinets a viable option and how much will you really save? The truth behind RTA (Ready To Assemble) cabinets and professional In-Stock Kitchen cabinets.

Lately we have been getting a lot of questions about how Ikea kitchen cabinets compare to factory pre-built kitchen cabinets that you would get from a professional design center. It’s a tricky question, because the belief is that you save money by going with Ikea, but at what cost? And are Ikea cabinets really cheaper to begin with? We couldn’t find many examples on the internet that actually run a side by side comparison, so if you can’t find it, make it…and we did. Read on…


There’s a concept in project management called “the triangle” where each side of the triangle represents either “cost,” “time” or “quality” and in any given project you’re allowed to choose 2 of those options, while sacrificing the third. Let’s say you choose to maximize time (quick) and quality (high), then it will cost more money to get the project done. If you choose to maximize cost (low) and quality (high), then it will take a long time to complete the project. Say I want to get the project done quickly while maximizing cost (low), then you typically have to sacrifice quality to make that happen. You get the idea…and you don’t, then re-read the above paragraph until you do. (It’s okay, I’ll wait…)


Okay, now that we’re all caught up…


What this all means in the real world is ideally we’d like to minimize the cost while completing the project at a high quality as quickly as possible. The question of course is how do we do this? With a kitchen remodeling project, one way to accomplish this goal is to choose “factory pre-built” cabinets from a professional kitchen & bath design center or go with “RTA” (or “ready to assemble”) cabinets like you would find at your local Ikea. Because these types of cabinets are more mass-produced than fully customized kitchen cabinets, we’re maximizing our cost and time, which means quality is now the variable factor.


So the question is: which should you choose?


For the purposes of this comparison, Kitchens2Go in Winnipeg will be our professional kitchen and bath design center, while Ikea will play the role of…Ikea.



The first step in any remodeling project is knowing what exactly we’re remodeling and what our design is. Ikea has a self-service system where you can design your own kitchen (or other room) based on the floor plan you enter into the software. You can mix and match, move things around and generally make things look pretty on screen…but a pretty design doesn’t mean it’s the right design.


Check out our design below.



That looks like a real kitchen and everything looks pretty good, right? When we look at the floor plan design (see below), all the math looks right and no red flags popped up in the Ikea system, so I would assume that we’re good to go. But without the benefit of expertise how do we know we’re not creating more problems than we’re solving by doing it ourselves?



Are my cabinets too tight together? Do I have enough countertop space? Do I have the right size doors to fit the cabinet space? Do my cabinet doors open in the right direction? Will the doors bang into each other when they open? Who is Susan and why is she lazy?


While we may not be able to answer the final question, Crystal Cyr with Kitchens2Go certainly can, so I brought my design to her for a “design check-up” to make sure I didn’t make any critical mistakes. Without wasting any time, Crystal noticed 3 errors right away…guess my design wasn’t as locked in as I had hoped.



DESIGN PROBLEM #1 – Cabinets don’t align to the sink base below.

The problem we have here is that the symmetry is thrown off to the right and level around the window, so it will look extremely awkward. While technically I could have these cabinets installed it’s kind of like driving a car with 1 flat tire or walking around with 1 shoe on…it can be done, but it will look extremely awkward and no one will be happy. It seems obvious, but you want to evenly distribute your cabinet space across a kitchen work area or else everything just feels out of balance. Hand to forehead…duh!


The next 2 problems Crystal noticed were both in the same area of my design, so at least I consolidated my mistakes this time. That’s progress, right? Okay, maybe not…



DESIGN PROBLEM #2 – Wall cabinets overhang my cooktop.

Considering I’m not a kitchen designer (and neither are you), why would the Ikea design program allow me to place cabinets that intrude into my cooktop space? The issue with this is that now my hood will be pushed to the left, covering some of my stovetop with my cabinets which is kind of like driving down the street with half the car on the sidewalk, especially from a safety standpoint. At least it’s a similar issue to what we had in “Design Problem #1”, so at least I’m consistent…or not so much.


DESIGN PROBLEM #3 – Gap between refrigerator panel and wall cabinets.

The second issue caused by having my cabinets too far to the left is now I have a huge 3” gap in between my cabinets above the stove and above the refrigerator. The computer didn’t tell me that I needed to add a filler to even out the cabinet space, so I assumed we were good to go. Can you imagine buying a new car that’s missing half of the passenger door? Pretty cool if you’re a stunt man, but I’m not…although after trying to design my kitchen at Ikea, I’m thinking a helmet might be necessary.


Thankfully Crystal was able to straighten out my design, which saved me a ton of time, money and frustration. So now with design in hand, we’re ready to move onto the next step of the process, actually buying the new cabinets for our soon to be kick-ass kitchen!



When comparing factory pre-built cabinets to RTA cabinets (see the chart below), we see that both options are pretty comparable in terms of cost:














Self Install Warranty


10 Years





The cost is negligible in this case, but that doesn't mean that things are equal. Next we compare the quality of cabinets:





Door Style


Urban Effects "Yorkshire"

Door Color

Natural Birch


Door Species



Cabinet Box Construction

Particle board

Medium density fiberboard

Cabinet Wall Thickness




Medium density fiberboard (MDF) is a denser and therefore stronger material than particle board, so while similar (both are pressed wood products), MDF has inherent strength advantages given the same thickness. This is even more appareny given the thicker cabinet wall construction with the Urban Effects cabinet box versus the Ikea version. Let's see, denser and thicker...yeah, that means stronger.


Beyond the construction of the actual cabinets, the other big difference here is that the RTA cabinets are just that, “ready to assemble” meaning they need to be put together before they can be installed. I was pretty good with a Lego set back in the day (as I’m sure you were too), but since this isn’t really our area of expertise, that means a professional is better suited to put the cabinets together before installing them. This alone could add anywhere from 1-3 days to the remodeling project depending on the size of the kitchen, which costs money (time is money, in case I hadn’t mentioned that).



The final thing to consider with any remodeling project is whether we’re actually satisfied and happy with the results. While this is fairly subjective, using a professional design center to remodel your kitchen or bathroom offers more assurances that the project will be a success long after it’s completed (see the chart below). I know if I run into any issues with my cabinets and need to have something replaced, Kitchens2Go is just a phone call away while Ikea can’t offer the same assurances and support. Call me crazy, but I want my new kitchen to last for a while, not just through the next year.





Self Install Warranty


10 Years

Factory Assembled



Locally Made



Finished Ends



Professional Designer



Design Error Checking





So while Ikea offers some tasty Swedish meatballs that most professional kitchen design centers don’t have on their menu, the Swedish giant can’t really match the expertise, knowledge and quality of service that you get from a professional kitchen & bath design center like Kitchens2Go. I already made my choice and still have enough money left over for a toasted meatball sub with provolone and extra sauce…always extra sauce.


And if you’re still not convinced and really want to channel your inner-Swedish Chef by assembling your kitchen cabinets yourself, then maybe this video by our good friend Max Koch will shed some light on the “RTA” experience. (Careful around the kids, not all cursing is in Swedish…)